QUAIL MUTTERINGS #33. Go As A River (February 22, 2015)
Why must we spend the majority of our precious, limited time doing things that really don’t matter in the big scheme of life? Things like repeated phone conversations to various companies or agencies that don’t seem to be familiar with the information that we had just called about the day before. Sometimes a business might have been bought out by a larger one or a merge has occurred or the entity grows to take on more than it is effectively capable of handling. For whatever reason, more and more of my time appears to be eaten up by these fruitless, frustrating endeavors. For me, these repeated conversations to the same person, or someone new, are extremely irritating and should, by all rights, be completely unnecessary.
For instance, one of the local propane companies can’t seem to get their paperwork and billing straight no matter how many times they reluctantly try. No one person is held accountable anymore. The big picture is somehow out of their reach and inaccessible.
“It’s not my fault…”
“Well, what can you do about it?” I ask.
Nothing really, is the underlying response. The maddening, circular conversation continues.
“Go as a river,” says Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.
I’m trying, but it’s downright hard.
Two weeks ago Kent and I went to Deer Park for a “tune-up” as we like to call it. This beautiful, peaceful Buddhist monastery lies in the hills above Escondido. After gathering into a circle and singing some songs together we embarked on the walking meditation. Consciously lifting one foot and placing it in front of the other we become aware of the earth below the soles of our feet and how our movements affect everything around us. It’s wonderful to experience the silence that a group of a few hundred fellow brothers and sisters are capable of when everyone is practicing mindfulness. I love coming here and not having to talk much or listen to unsolicited, endless banter. We’re all working on being more conscious, compassionate individuals.
As we begin our ascent up the mountain trail the familiar fragrance of lilac filled my olfactory senses. I closed my mouth and inhaled deeply. Coming around a bend I saw the source: a Lakeside Lilac loaded with vibrant, dark blue blossoms. I nodded my grateful, appreciation to my fellow earth dweller. Gazing across the valley I began wondering about where the dirt road in the distance went. Was it heading to a new development? Was it a fire road? And then I noticed that I had slipped back into that ‘thinking habit.’ I returned to my breathing again. In, out, deep, slow, calm, ease, smile, release, present moment, wonderful moment. I redirected my attention to each step and paid attention to my feet landing on the outside of my instep.
Somehow I’d merged to the inside of the group and found myself bothered that others had closed in around me. I side passed my way toward the outside edge of the moving river – back to my natural comfort zone. Again, I realized my slippage into ‘thinking’, but continued anyway.
This walking meditation seemed a parallel to life. We go along happy and secure and then along comes an illness or event that damages the peace we’d been experiencing. And then, perhaps, we’re content again until we get yet another incorrect bill from the propane company. I mostly wish this wouldn’t happen, but I also wish that I didn’t let it get to me so much and permeate any other peace that I may have been enjoying. But it does. My attempt at this point is to watch my irritation and notice what it does within my body and little by little let it go – until the time comes when I, once again, must do my best to rectify the details with the propane company and sincerely hope that THIS TIME the matter at hand will be settled once and for all. At least for these current invoices.
Kent and I ate the delicious vegan lunch prepared at the monastery, in relative silence, up in the garden by the lily pond. A small sign with Peace is Every Step, written in beautiful calligraphy, peeks out from behind some foliage and I hear a distant bell ring. I stop, close my eyes, and take a deep, appreciative breath.
At a little before 2:00 PM we wandered back down to the meditation hall to take part in the “Deep Relaxation.” The monk speaks softly, off and on, calmly guiding our attention to various organs in our body, to send each one our loving kindness and appreciation for the job they do. Lying on our backs we heard a Native American flute, a didgeridoo, a soft beating drum. Without turning my head and opening my eyes I would have never guessed that all this music came from his expertise playing a long segment of PVC pipe! I closed my eyes and returned to my breathing. In, out, deep, slow, calm, ease, smile, release, present moment, wonderful moment…
Chi Varnado is a contributing writer for The San Diego Reader. Her memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Chi directs the Ramona Dance Centre. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.